How To Steal An Election by Jeff Jacoby

© 2004 Boston Globe

Reproduced under the Fair Use exception of 17 USC § 107 for noncommercial, nonprofit, and educational use.


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Thursday, September 16, 2004 — A recent [August 21, 2004] story that didn't get nearly the attention it deserved was the New York Daily News report that 46,000 registered New York City voters are also registered to vote in Florida. Nearly 1,700 of them have had absentee ballots mailed to their home in the other state, and as many as 1,000 have voted twice in the same election. Can 1,000 fraudulent votes change an election? Well, George W. Bush won Florida in 2000 by just 537 votes.

It is illegal to register to vote simultaneously in different jurisdictions, but scofflaws have little to worry about. As the Daily News noted, "efforts to prevent people from registering and voting in more than one state rely mostly on the honor system." Those who break the law rarely face prosecution or serious punishment. It's easy — and painless — to cheat.

I learned this firsthand in 1996, when I registered my wife's cat as a voter in Cook County, Ill., Norfolk County, Mass., and Cuyahoga County, Ohio, and then requested absentee ballots from all three venues. My purpose wasn't to cast illegal multiple votes — I think I've still got those absentee ballots saved in a file somewhere — but to demonstrate how vulnerable to manipulation America's election system had become.

It was a simple scam to pull off. "Under the National Voter Registration Act — the 'Motor Voter law' — states are required to accept voter registrations by mail," I wrote at the time.

"No longer can citizens be asked to make a trip to town hall or the county office. No longer do they have to provide proof of residence or citizenship. In fact, they don't have to exist. Motor Voter obliges election officials to add to the voter list any name mailed in on a properly filled-out registration form. Anyone so registered can then request an absentee ballot — by mail, of course. The system is not only open to manipulation, it invites it."

As journalist John Fund shows in an alarming new book, Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens Our Democracy, the United States has an elections system that would be an embarrassment in Honduras or Ghana. It is so unpoliced, he writes, that at least eight of the 9/11 hijackers "were actually able to register to vote in either Virginia or Florida while they made their deadly preparations."

How fouled up are the voter rolls? So fouled up that in some cities [and states] there are more registered voters than there are adults. So fouled up that when the Indianapolis Star investigated Indiana's records a few years ago, it discovered that hundreds of thousands of names — as many as one-fifth of the total — were "bogus" since the individuals named had moved, died, or gone to prison. So fouled up that when a Louisiana paper filed 25 phony voter-registration forms signed only with an "X," 21 were approved and added to the voter list.

Illegal aliens have been registered too, since under Motor Voter, any recipient of government benefits can sign up to vote — no questions asked. Did that wide-open door to fraud cost former GOP Congressman Robert Dornan his seat in Congress? An investigation by the Immigration and Naturalization Service following Dornan's 1996 defeat by Democrat Loretta Sanchez found that 4,023 noncitizens may have cast ballots in that election. Dornan lost by 984 votes.

It shouldn't take a degree in rocket science to fix a system this sloppy and chaotic. But not everyone wants to fix it. Some operatives don't mind electoral cheating if it brings more of "their" voters to the polls. Fund cites the findings of Wall Street Journal reporter Glenn Simpson and political scientist Larry Sabato, co-authors of a recent book on corruption in American politics. Some liberal activists they interviewed go so far as to justify voter fraud on the grounds that such "extraordinary measures" compensate for the weaker political clout of minorities and the poor.

One simple fix — requiring every voter to show ID when registering and voting — would seem to be a no-brainer. Opinion polls show the vast majority of Americans in favor of such a reform. After all, ID is required when boarding an airplane or buying liquor. Why not when voting?

Yet — incredibly — powerful political interests have long fought to block an ID requirement. The NAACP and La Raza liken it to the poll tax that Southern states once used to keep blacks from voting. A Democratic Party official says that "ballot security" and "preventing voter fraud" are simply code for voter suppression. That willingness to play the race card is not merely dishonorable, it is undemocratic. For as Fund notes, "when voters are disenfranchised by the counting of improperly cast ballots, their civil rights are violated just as surely as if they were prevented from voting."

The drift toward Third World-caliber elections in the most advanced democracy the world has ever known is scandalous. Then again, if Americans can't be bothered to scrub the voting rolls, or to make sure that voters are properly ID'd, maybe they've got the election system they deserve.


Election Day, RIP?


Once, Election Day was the most significant communal occasion in American life.

September 22, 2004 — On the Tuesday after the first Monday in November, Americans came together to choose their leaders and reaffirm their democracy. It was, in George Will's words, "the central episode of our civic liturgy" — a day not only of practical decision-making but of important symbolic meaning. Leaving their homes and offices, mingling at a public polling place, waiting together in line to cast their votes, Americans were reminded that, whatever their differences, they were all equal members of a political community with an equal say in its governance.

Election Day still appears on the calendar. But its importance is steadily diminishing. Consider three news items from the week gone by:

One — The Chronicle of Higher Education and Harvard's Institute of Politics released a study showing that 33 percent of US colleges and universities are not complying with a federal law that requires them to provide students with voter-registration forms. Those schools, scolded David King, the institute's director of research, "are...clearly failing their students, the communities in which they live, and... the next generation of political voters."

Two —The Washington Post reported in a front-page story that "many people with advanced dementia appear to be voting in elections — including through absentee ballot." Studies in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island have shown that patients at dementia clinics are actually more likely to vote than the general public.

Three —The Associated Press reported that 32 states now permit some form of early voting, either by making mail-in absentee ballots available to any voter or by opening polling stations weeks before Election Day, or both. The story quoted Meredith Imwalle of the National Association of Secretaries of State: "We're in 2004, and both parents are working. Kids are in school, with 500 activities a week. People's lives are such that they're not able to come to a screeching halt and march down to their local elementary school on Election Day."

What links these stories is the fetishization of voting — the contemporary belief that nothing is more important to our civic health than increasing voter turnout. In recent years, lawmakers have gone to great lengths to make voting as convenient and effortless as possible. The voting age was lowered to 18. Universities were made responsible for their students' registration as voters. "Motor Voter" — which allows anyone to register by mail, or when renewing a driver's license or applying for welfare — became the law of the land. Now many states are on the point of abandoning Election Day itself.

Already in much of the country, voters no longer have to wait until Election Day to vote. Thirty-one states permit voters to cast their ballots early at designated polling sites. In Iowa, voting begins this Thursday. The polls open in Arizona next week.

In addition, 26 states now permit no-excuse absentee voting, which allows any resident to request an absentee ballot for any reason at all. And in Oregon, the voting booth has been done away with altogether: Oregon elections are now conducted entirely by mail.

All of which means that "Election Day" has been reduced to little more than a figure of speech. The Tuesday after the first Monday in November is no longer the day when Americans assemble to make important political choices. Now it is merely the day when the voting ends. "If you wait until Election Day," Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano told The Washington Post, "you've missed the first half of the vote." Election Day officially occurs on November 2 this year, but as much as 30 percent of the turnout will have occurred before then.

This is not a good thing. For starters, absentee and early voting results in millions of ballots being cast before the campaign is over, and as journalist John Fund points out in Stealing Elections, a new book about America's chaotic voting system, late-breaking news can have a dramatic impact on an election's outcome. Four years ago, for example, Al Gore enjoyed a last-minute surge following news of George W. Bush's 1976 arrest for drunk driving. "If more people had cast ballots on Election Day, rather than earlier," Fund notes, "Gore would probably be president today."

The proliferation of absentee voting also means that the secret ballot is increasingly a thing of the past. Dirty tricks are easier to arrange than ever. How many of those patients with dementia The Washington Post reported on last week — the ones who voted at such high rates — received "help" with their ballots from partisan operatives?

These drawbacks might be a price worth paying if absentee and early voting really did encourage more citizens to vote. It doesn't. According to Curtis Gans, director of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate, the data are "unequivocal" in showing that easy absentee voting does not boost turnout. More or less the only people it really helps, he told Fund, are those who would be voting anyway — "often lazy middle-class and upper-middle-class people."

The unpopular truth is that it isn't lack of time that keeps so many Americans from voting. It's lack of interest. Citizens who care about elections will always find a way to vote. Citizens who don't care aren't likely to vote no matter how much they are coaxed and begged to do so. It's time to stop the coaxing and begging, and to restore to Election Day the significance it used to have.


Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe .



| EJF Home | Where To Find Help | Join the EJF | Comments? | Get EJF newsletter |


| Vote Fraud and Election Issues Book | Table of Contents | Site Map | Index |


| Chapter 6 — Pitfalls Of Statewide Voter Registration Databases |

| Next — An Election Spoiled Rotten by Greg Palast |

| Back — Vanishing Votes by Greg Palast |


Last modified 6/14/09